Lenovo Yoga

Lenovo N20p Chromebook review: An affordable dual-mode device

lenovo n20p chromebook tent mode
Credit: Image: Michael Homnick

Lenovo's latest Chromebook functions as both a regular laptop and a stand-supported tablet. But what is it like to use in the real world?

When you think of a Chromebook, you typically think of a keyboard-centric laptop -- but Lenovo's hoping to shake up that mindset with some versatile new devices.

The company has come out with a couple of convertible Chromebooks that can act as both traditional laptops and touchscreen tablets. The first, the Lenovo N20p Chromebook, costs $330 and offers a 300-degree tilting display. The second, the ThinkPad Yoga 11e Chromebook, costs $479 and features a higher-quality screen that bends back a full 360 degrees.

I've been living with the N20p model to start with, and one thing's for sure: It offers a Chrome OS experience like no other.

Body, design and that tilting display

At first glance, Lenovo's N20p Chromebook looks like any run-of-the-mill laptop: The computer has a matte-plastic gray casing with Lenovo's logo and the Google Chrome logo at its top. Open the lid and you're greeted by an 11.6-in. screen and a chiclet-style Chrome OS keyboard.

Lenovo N20p Chromebook
The Lenovo N20p Chromebook can operate in a standard laptop mode.

In that mode, the N20p Chromebook is pleasant enough to use: It's one of the higher-quality devices in its class, with sturdy construction, a commendable keyboard and a smooth-feeling and responsive trackpad. If you press on the center of the lid, you do feel a little give -- almost a slight springiness -- but by and large, the N20p seems well-built and less flimsy than some of the cheaper options in its price range.

The N20p is comfortable to hold on your lap, too: The laptop is 11.6 x 8.3 x 0.7 in. and 2.9 lbs. -- slightly heavier than some of the less sturdy devices of its size but still quite light and easy to carry.

As with other touch-enabled Chromebooks, you have the ability to tap, scroll or zoom the N20p's screen with your fingers, which I find to be a surprisingly useful feature. It's even more interesting, though, when you push the N20p's display back beyond the standard stopping point -- past the flattened-out 180-degree mark and all the way around to its fully tilted stand mode.

In that mode, you actually end up with the keyboard upside-down -- in other words, with keys facing downward -- serving as a base. The keyboard is automatically disabled in that state, so you don't have to worry about accidental key presses. Instead, what you get is a tablet-like experience, complete with a virtual on-screen keyboard that appears when you need it.

Lenovo N20p Chromebook
In "stand" mode, the Lenovo N20p Chromebook makes it easy to work with its touchscreen.

Coupled with the N20p's touch input, this setup works incredibly well. It opens up a whole new range of uses for the device while still leaving its traditional operations in place.

I've been using the N20p Chromebook in its laptop mode for work, for instance, then flipping the screen around and shifting into stand mode when I want to do something less input-oriented and more browsing-based -- catching up on articles I've opened throughout the day, scrolling through my social media streams or watching videos with the device resting comfortably on my lap.

It's reached the point where shifting between the system's two modes feels effortless and natural to me, and I've really grown to appreciate having that option. Chrome OS itself isn't entirely optimized for touch, so certain things are still a little awkward -- like trying to tap the small "x" to close a tab with your finger, for example -- but all in all, the touch-centric stand experience is quite pleasant. You just have to think of it as a complement to the traditional laptop environment rather than a replacement for it.

When the N20p is in its stand mode, the user interface does change a bit: All windows appear maximized, while a button shows up in the bottom-right area of the screen that allows you to switch between opened windows using a graphical interface. (Those already familiar with Chromebooks will note that it's the same task-switching command also present on the top row of the regular Chrome OS keyboard.)

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